Sunday, January 12, 2020

Mystery Shop

                                      Mystery Shop
                 By Valerie L. Egar
Roselle did not expect to find a small shop on a back street of the dusty desert town. She’d noticed lots of empty storefronts on the main street— certainly those would be a better place for a business, especially in a town that seemed to depend on tourists for business. She wandered down the street only because she glimpsed a white cat. In the afternoon light, the cat might make a good photo and she was ready, camera in hand.

Instead, the cat disappeared and she discovered the shop. Dirty front windows, with an odd assortment of clutter behind them— a ventriloquist’s dummy. Packets of seeds that looked hundreds of years old.  A silver flute, red paisley shawl, old newspapers. Over the door, a hand painted sign said, “Mystery Shop.”  “It’s a mystery all right,” thought Roselle. “How do they stay in business?” She was curious though and opened the door.
A bell hung on the door jangled as she stepped inside and a woman called from a back room. “I’ll be right there!”
Roselle looked around. 

Despite the dust and lack of organization, the store appealed to her. What looked like diaries bound in leather sat on top of an old piano. She picked one up and opened the cover. “This diary belongs to George Washington.”
            George Washington? The first American president?
            Roselle began to read, tracing her fingers over the faded ink and wobbly cursive handwriting.
Today I chopped down Father’s favorite cherry tree. I have a fine new ax and wanted to see how well it worked. Father was angry and asked….
           Roselle shook her head. If the diary was George Washington’s, what was it doing on a shelf in a dusty store? Shouldn’t it be in a museum?
            A woman appeared from the back room. “Ah, the Washington diary. Lovely isn’t it?”
            “Is it real?”
            “Who knows? It’s a mystery, like everything else in here. Have you seen Picasso’s early artwork? I have a few drawings he did when he was 5.”
            Roselle saw a few scribbles signed “Picasso.”  “Why would a 5 year old sign his scribbles?” Roselle asked.
            The woman shrugged. “How old are you?”
            When did you learn to write your name?
            Roselle shrugged. “When I was 4 I think.”
           “So why are you surprised he knew how to write his name? The woman stared at Roselle. “Where are your parents?”
            “Having lunch at the cafĂ©. I wanted to take a walk. They figured I couldn’t get lost, since there are only two streets in town.”
“And here you are at my marvelous store! I knew someone interesting would come by today.”
            Roselle looked at the items displayed in a glass case by the cash register. Broken pottery, a few rocks, photographs.
            “Would you like to see the Egyptian pottery shards?”
            “They look exactly like my Mom’s dishes.”
            “Leaves were a popular pattern on dishes for thousands of years.”
            Roselle pointed to a photo of a man in a toga. “What’s that?”
            “The only known photograph of Emperor Nero.”
            “We learned about him in school. He’s from ancient Rome. They didn’t have cameras thousands of years ago!”
            The woman sniffed. “The ancients were much smarter and more advanced than we think. And look, it even says ‘Nero’ at the bottom.”
            “Maybe he’s an actor in a play?”
            “Then it would say ‘actor’. It would be misleading otherwise.”
            Roselle sighed. The shop and the woman were rather strange. She needed to get back to her parents who were surely finished with their lunch by now, but she
wanted to buy something, anything, to remember her odd visit. She fished in her pocket. “Have you anything for $2?”
            The woman rooted through a pile of old keys. She pulled a rusty one from the group and held it up. “The key to an ancient walled city, ” she whispered. “I don’t know which one, so I can let you have it for $2.”
Roselle smiled and gave the woman her $2. The key looked exactly like the key her grandmother used to lock her antique desk, but it was fun to imagine an unknown city with a gate she could unlock with a rusted key. She tucked it in her pocket and ran to catch up with her parents.
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          Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
                Published Biddeford Journal Tribune,(Biddeford, ME) October 5, 2019. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Magellan the Mouse

Magellan the Mouse
By Valerie L. Egar

Momma Mouse had six babies, but right from the start, she recognized one was very different from the others. Five fell asleep after a bedtime story. The sixth one stayed awake asking questions. Why did frogs turn into princes and not mice? Why didn’t Red Riding Hood know the wolf wasn’t her Grandma?
Before his eyes opened, he crawled out of the nest to explore.  Frantic, Momma Mouse found him stumbling around the attic near a hole that would have carried him who knows where. She scolded him, carried him back to the nest and decided to name him Magellan after the explorer.
When Magellan’s eyes opened, he spent hours discovering every nook and cranny in the attic. He found a small hole to enter an antique trunk and had fun nibbling on some old newspapers and a woolen blanket. He sunned himself in a patch of light that shone through the attic window. He played tag with his brothers and sisters, frolicking back and forth across the floor.
“Shh!” his mother warned.  “The people don’t know we’re here.”
Magellan and his brothers and sisters grew quickly. Each one of them found a spot in the attic to make a home and raise a family, but not Magellan. “I want to see the world,” he declared.
His mother wasn’t surprised, but she worried. She explained as best she could about cats and people, traps and hawks. The attic was a safe place for mice, but the outside world wasn’t safe at all. “Come back any time,” she told Magellan and hugged him. With that, Magellan scrambled between the walls to find out what was beyond the attic.
He fell with a thump and when he landed, found himself in a room so bright, the light almost blinded him. He liked the feel of soft carpet under his feet. Slowly, he walked along the baseboard, sniffing the air. He heard voices and took cover under a bureau.
Magellan peeked out from beneath the bureau and saw a bare foot the length of  twenty mice. Humans were huge! He watched the feet walk back and forth and heard cloth rustling.  The next time he saw the feet they had shoes on. The room fell quiet.  Magellan stepped out from underneath the bureau and looked around.
He climbed onto the unmade bed.  The covers felt warm. “Mmmm, nice.”
He bounced up and down on the pillows.
Magellan felt hungry and decided to see if there was anything good to eat anywhere.
He skittered down the hall, though the living room and into the kitchen. He noticed a big bowl of food on the floor filled with crunchy treats, perfect snack food. He jumped in the bowl and started to nibble. It was delicious, better than anything he’d ever tasted.
 Magellan looked up and saw two green eyes staring at him. He froze.  If he didn’t move, would the cat leave him alone? He saw the cat’s tail twitching.
The telephone rang. Just as the cat turned its head, Magellan flew out of the bowl and dived behind the kitchen cabinet. Safe! That was close.
He found a hole in the wall behind the cabinets and climbed through it to another place in the house.  “This place smells funny.” The floor was cold concrete. Shelves lined the walls filled with tools and paint cans. “I don’t like it in here.” Magellan looked for a way out and squeezed under a door.
Green grass as far as Magellan could see.  Sun warmed him. He ran through the grass and into a garden. Daisies towered over him. The scent of roses tickled his nose. He nibbled a few seeds he found.
All of sudden the sky darkened and fat drops of rain poured down, pelting Magellan. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed. Cold and wet, Magellan ran for the house and squeezed back under the door.
Magellan made his way back to the attic, carefully avoiding the cat. “I have seen the world,” he announced to his family. “Interesting as it is, I can tell you, there’s no place like home.”
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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published August 10, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, September 23, 2019

Mystery Woman

Mystery Woman
                                                By Valerie L. Egar

            Brianna lived on the twelfth floor of an apartment building in the city. She was clever and curious and just a tiny bit nosy. She knew the woman in 1203 was a night nurse because she noticed her leave in the evening dressed in scrubs. The couple in 1211 had a new baby boy. Brianna saw the balloon announcing his birth.  When she walked down the hall and heard violin practice from 1208, she concluded the man who lived there was a musician.
            Only one tenant on the 12th  floor baffled her. A woman had moved into 1210 recently and lived alone. She had long black hair and didn’t wear much make-up. She wore clothes Brianna liked— long flowing dresses and dangly earrings, faded jeans with baggy sweaters and lots of bracelets
Unlike the other tenants, she didn’t leave for work in the morning and not in the evening either. When Brianna went to the park in the afternoon, she often saw her sitting on a park bench. One day she even saw her climbing the ladder to the slide, even though she was too old for that!
           The woman went to yoga on Saturdays— Brianna saw her get on the elevator carrying a yoga mat. She went to the farmer’s market afterwards, because she came back with net bags filled with vegetables and fruits. But, other than the few things Brianna observed, the woman was a mystery that piqued Brianna’s curiosity.
“Hello,” Brianna said to the woman one afternoon as she stepped onto the elevator. “I live in 1213.”
            The woman looked confused.
            “Down the hall from you. I’m Brianna.”
            “Nice to meet you,” the woman replied as the doors opened and she headed for the mailboxes. Only then did Brianna realize that the woman hadn’t mentioned her name.        
            Brianna began to suspect the woman might be a spy. Spies didn’t mention their names, did they? And, a spy would be a much more interesting tenant for the twelfth floor than almost anyone else. Maybe sliding down the slide was a signal to someone watching through binoculars. Maybe she passed messages to other spies at yoga, or the farmer’s market.
            Brianna’s suspicions were confirmed when she popped open a fortune cookie after Friday night’s take out Chinese dinner. “Upset the raven and risk all,” her fortune read. Brianna didn’t even know where to find any ravens, much less upset them. Unless— it didn’t mean a bird.  Maybe it was a code name. Raven, a perfect code name. And who had black hair like a raven? The mystery woman.
           Brianna’s heart raced. She wasn’t scared, just excited. Here she was in the middle of a spy story. All she had to do was watch and be careful. Never did she think  a summer on the 12th floor of her apartment building would be so exciting.
            Brianna found reasons to stroll past the mystery woman’s apartment every hour or so during the day. She heard music playing, but not much else. When she went to the mailroom and saw a package for apartment 1210, she tried to read the return address, but the doorman shooed her away. She only caught the mystery woman’s name: Ruth Bevins.
            “Aha! Ruth starts with an ‘r’ and so does raven. More proof!”
            Brianna googled the name, something she’d learned to do in school. Ruth Bevins’ website was at the top of the search. Brianna clicked on it eagerly.
Artist. Award winning illustrator of over 20 books, many of which Brianna had enjoyed.  
Living near an artist who illustrated books was even more exciting than living near a spy. And of course, it explained everything. Ms. Bevins worked from home, drawing and painting all day.
The next time Brianna saw Ms. Bevins, she whispered, “I really like your books.”

Ms. Bevins smiled and invited Brianna to visit and Brianna happily did.
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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be distributed, copied or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published August 3, 2019, Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, September 16, 2019

Museum Cat

                                                        Museum Cat
                                                     By Valerie L. Egar

            I have the best job a cat could possibly have. Like my father and grandfather before me, I am in charge of rodent control for the Higgendorf Town Museum, a small museum located on a side street by the canal in our beautiful town.
Glass cases display examples of the lace made here hundreds of years ago. Another room is an exact replica of famous philosopher Erik Rothensburger’s study with his original manuscripts. Paintings of local scenes line the halls and then, there’s a gift shop. It’s tiny, but a very important part of my patrol. No mice nibbling our candy!
I live in the museum office at the back of the building. I rest all day, sleeping in a warm sun patch or near the coal stove when it’s winter. Mrs. Schenk feeds me at noon. Sometimes, when the museum isn’t too busy, she plays with me, dangling a string or rolling a ball across the floor.
When all the visitors are gone and she’s about to leave for the night, she opens the office door and lets me into the museum. “Time to patrol,” she says.
I stretch and walk slowly into the museum. I don’t want to look like some scatterbrain cat that doesn’t know what he’s doing. I sniff the baseboards in the lace room, check the heating grates. No evidence of mice.
In the philosopher’s study, I look under the desk. I sit on his chair and then the windowsill. On moonlit nights, the light shines on the desk and I like to think a person might be inspired to great thoughts looking out the window at the moon.
I hear the tiniest sound and cock my ears. Someone jiggling the front door? I peek around the corner and see a shadow. Someone is trying to get in!
            Though I’m only in charge of rodent control, no one is going to take anything from the museum on my watch! I think quickly and creep into the lace room. I jump to the top of the glass display case and wait.
            Soon the door cracks open and a man creeps inside. My cat eyes allow me to see well in the darkness. Although the man carries a flashlight, he looks straight ahead and doesn’t look up. One, two, three…..jump!
            With a loud growl and hiss, I leap from the top of the glass display and land on the man’s shoulders, scratching and yowling. I grab him around the neck and claw his head.
            “Ow! Ow! Ow!” he screams. I nip the bottom of his ear as he runs for the door.
            I guard the open front door for the rest of the night. When Mrs. Schenk arrives in the morning, she quickly realizes there’s been a break-in. “Oh, Randolf! Are you OK?”
            I rub her leg and purr to let her know I’m fine. 
    Not a minute later the police arrive. “We’ve caught the burglar,” the patrolman says. “But we want to know what happened to him. He looked awful.”
  Mrs. Schenk pointed to me. “Randolf  stopped him.”
  I am proud to say I am now an honorary member of the Higgendorf Police and have been elevated to Chief of Museum Security. Mrs. Schenk adopted two kittens for rodent patrol and I’m teaching them exactly what to do.

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                 Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or distributed without permission of the author.
                    Published September 7, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME)